Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

62. Sarah's Key
by Tatiana de Rosnay
fiction, 2007
finished, 12/28/09

On Hallowe'en night some friends and Tom and I had an unusual evening. No, nothing eerie or scary. We went to visit our 'in-town' friends so we could see the little trick or treaters. In a while, two other couples came by and we all had dinner together. Eight adults who ate together for the first time ever without any of our children present. We remarked upon this fact quite often. As we were sitting around, a man asked Tom and I if we read. When we said yes, he began to rave about a book he and his wife had just read called Sarah's Key. The man said he couldn't put it down. Well, you gotta know this doesn't happen in my 'real' life very often. I have one friend with whom I talk books, but mostly that's it. Occasionally someone will mention a title, but for someone to love a book so much as this, well, I went right out and bought a copy.

Oh my gosh, I hated having to put it down to do other things in my life. It goes back and forth between 1942 and 2002 in France; a device I just love in books. We begin in 1942 with the dreaded banging on the door. A little girl and her mother are taken away. While they are packing up some things, the girl locks her younger brother in a secret cupboard, sure that she will be back soon to let him out. The father is hiding in the cellar when the police come. This sounds like other horror stories of the Nazi years, and it is, except for a startling fact. The men who come to get this Jewish family are not German, but French. One is the neighborhood policeman who used to pat the little girl on the head. Yes, the police are of course under German orders, but the cruelty they inflict upon their own fellow citizens makes them culpable in their own right.

In the next chapter, we meet forty-five year old American born Julia, who is married to a French man. They have an eleven year old daughter. The woman is a journalist and is going to do a story on what we now know as the Vélodrome d'Hiver roundup. On that awful day in July of 1942, thousands were taken away from their homes. She has never heard of the event. This may not be surprising because she is an American, but she finds people who went to school in France who never learned about it in school or from others. A sad, hidden secret.

Not only do the two stories alternate, they also interconnect, and there comes a point where the action stays in one period.

Some books are easier for me to write about than others. In a case like Sarah's Key, I really hate to give away the story. I knew nothing of this book except for our friend's enthusiasm, and I loved discovering the story for myself. If you want to know more details you can certainly find them at online bookstores or other blogs (though I haven't read about it anywhere yet). What I will say is that I was utterly in this book as I read it. I had to pull myself away to re-enter the world of my kitchen. I so rarely read something deemed as a 'bestseller' but I can see why this one is. I gave it to our daughter Margaret for Christmas, and she began and finished the book in a flash.

So, we have our friends, our daughter, its bestseller status, and now me. I can't imagine anyone not falling under the spell of this fantastic story. The event is true and the story is fictional, though the reader feels certain that it is real in many ways. The book is suspenseful and warm at the same time. We feel for the woman in the present day, as we feel for the young girl in 1942. Excellent book, that's all I can say.

Sarah's Key was great way to end a great year of reading. I won't do any favorites lists, other than the crime fiction one I did the other day. Mostly each and every book was my favorite while I was reading it; from Laurie Colwin to Henning Mankell. In general, I don't read books which I don't love. If I don't enjoy being within its pages, I put it aside and pick up another. Reading is my fondest pastime, which the dictionary tells us is:
an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work.


  1. Lovely review. I had one of my book club members suggest this book for us to read this year. I didn't add it for some reason, probably because the library doesn't have enough copies. I'll check back. Anyway, I have a copy myself and it looks like I need to find it and read it soon.

    Loved the parting words you gave us. "NOT WORK"! :-)

  2. Oh, thank you, Kay. I'm quite sure you will like it. I love the definition, too. :<)

  3. Oooh - my library has this one! There are 2 requests ahead of me but then it's mine! Looking forward to it.

    Thanks for the recommendation


    Happy New Year!

  4. Fabulous review; I hope to read that one in 2010.

    Hope that you have a Happy and Healthy New Year. May all they books that your read in 2010 be terrific.

  5. This is a book I recommended to my book group a few months ago after reading a glowing review. It didn't get selected, and then I never got around to reading it either. Now it's going on the 'must read' list!

  6. I also enjoyed this book but I think I liked Suite Francaise more. Happy New Year.

  7. This book was definitely making the rounds of the book blogosphere this year - I'm really surprised that you hadn't heard of it! It seems that everyone who has read it loves it just as much as you do.

    Oh, and isn't it wonderful to find a "real life" friend who is so into books?! That is the perfect holiday treat.

    Happy New Year Nan!

  8. A few women in my bookclub recommended this book. I guess I'll have to add it to my wish list!

  9. that sounds a fascinating book Nan for the tbr list!

  10. I really enjoy when people recommend a book, I always like to "pass on" good reads too.
    A Happy New Year to you and your family!

  11. Aaaah! How on earth am I going to read all of the books you have so beautifully reviewed, Nan? ;) This one might be #1 on my list this year. Oh, and I just clicked on the Youve Got Mail link on your side bar and I think I will quietly participate in that with you. No pressure that way.
    I hope you have a wonderful New Year and I look forward to seeing what you have up your sleeve for us in 2010.

  12. That is going on my wish list right now.
    A Very Happy New Year to you from the sunny (today!) Cotswolds.


  13. Island Sparrow, I will be interested to hear what you think. And the same to you!

    Diane, thank you, and the same to you. I loved your book wish!

    JoAnn, I wonder if they thought it might be a sad Holocaust story and didn't think they could bear it. Well, I can't read many, many of them either, but this one was done so well that I could. I think including a modern day section was brilliant. I'm quite sure this is your kind of book.

    Sarah, there's a quote at the beginning of the book from Suite Francaise. Is this book true or fiction? It is a memoir?

    Heather, there are just so many blogs about books, and I guess the ones I read just didn't happen to review it. You'll really like it, I'm sure. Thank you and the same to you!

    Sherri, it is so, so good!

    Jodi, I'm pleased to know this. Thanks for leaving a note.

    Val, I think as a mother you may read it in a more involved way than someone who doesn't have kids - both the 1942 sections and the modern one. I didn't want to go into much detail, but the woman Julia has her own stuff to deal with. (no, her child doesn't die! I knew you'd want to know. I never could have read it if she did)

    K, thank you and the same to you! As I wrote, it is so rare in my life except for one friend.

    Karin, thank you for your nice words. I am quite sure this You've Got Mail challenge is the lowest key one ever. I think it will be fun because of so many kid books on the list. Happy New Year to you, too!

  14. Carole, you'll love it! And I wish the same to you. Not sunny here at all. Cloudy, light snow.

  15. I loved this one too Nan...can't wait to read more from this author.

  16. Staci, I wonder if she will write about Paris life today. I found her observations to be fascinating, especially since she is French herself, not American as Julia was.

  17. I read this book in 2009! I really liked it and felt a great momentum with the child's story. I was not so taken with Julia. Overall, I thought this was a really satisfying read; so glad you enjoyed it.

  18. Tara, I emailed you with some of my thoughts on Julia. Didn't want to spoil the story for anyone who might read my comment back to you!

  19. Oh my gosh, I hated having to put it down to do other things in my life. It goes back and forth between 1942 and 2002 in France; a device I just love in books.

    Me, too! I just finished Water For Elephants and felt the same way.

    I've heard such good things about Sarah's Key. I have B&N gift card so I think that's just what I'll buy. Thanks for the wonderful review, Nan.

  20. And I thank you, Les. This may be one of those books we BOTH love. :<) I'll look forward to your review!


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.